Full House Challenge – The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Genre: South Korean Literature, Madness, Family

Narrative Style: First and Third Person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2007

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Yeong-Hye decides to stop eating meat, much to the annoyance of her husband who makes no effort to understand her reasons. When questioned, she replies that she had a dream and after that, she had to stop eating meat. It is a dream of violence and blood and she finds it impossible to put into words exactly why she can no longer eat meat. After a disastrous visit to her parents’ home, her family life begins to fall apart and she ends up in the asylum.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: Diversity

 This was a very strange read. I must admit that I don’t know that much about South Korea’s culture. That was one of the reasons this book appealed to me. Having said that, if I had just a little more knowledge, it might have made more sense to me.

The novel is split into three sections. The first is narrated by Yeung-hye’s husband (with italicised sections that describe her bloody dreams) as she makes the decision to give up meat. He is not a very understanding man and comes across as harsh in his treatment of her. However, it is also apparent that the social mores in South Korea have no place for this woman who has decided to stop eating meat. No one can understand her position and her husband is no better or worse than any of her family. The section ends with a visit to her family which finishes with her father trying to force her to eat meat, an act of violence that seems akin to rape it is so cruel.

The next two sections are written in the third person. The second is from the point of view of Yeung-Hye’s brother in law who becomes obsessed with her birthmark which he calls a ‘Mongolian Mark’. He begins to create strange, pornographic art works which have her at the centre. Finally, in the third section, which is from the point of view of her sister, In-Hye, Yeung-Hye is in the hospital and is refusing to eat anything. She believes that she will transform into a tree and so no longer needs human nourishment.

There are many things that Yeung-Hye’s retreat into madness could represent. It transpires that their father was always a cruel man and that Yeung-Hye has always been attempting to escape. There are also the strict social rules of South Korea which leave little space for creativity. Finally, it could be seen an attempt to escape the violence of life and to live innocently.

I did enjoy this book. I’m not sure I fully understood it and I think it would definitely stand up to a re-reading. But it certainly sparked my curiosity and opened up a new reading area for me.

Full House Challenge – Room by Emma Donaghue (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Psychological thriller

Narrative Style: First Person from the point of view of a child.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: To Jack, Room is his whole world. He has never known anything else. The only human he knows is his ‘ma’ who also lives in Room. Ma tells Jack that nothing else exists apart from Room. Everything else is just TV and doesn’t really exist. The reader gathers that Ma has been kidnapped and Jack has been born in captivity. When Ma decides they need to escape from their prison, Jack has to learn all about the outside world really quickly.

Reading Challenges: Full House Challenge – Book on a list – Bestselling books of 2010. 

I didn’t read this at the time because I really didn’t want to read a book written from the point of view of a child. Some of my reservations were well founded. Although I did enjoy this book, it was hard going at times. If you can imagine a five-year-old constantly talking in your ear for hours at a time, then you can imagine what it is like to read this book. It was unrelenting.

The book is split into two parts. In the first half, we learn of Jack’s world and how his mother has tried to protect him from the truth of their captivity. Everything in Jack’s world is imbued with personality – from Rug to Wardrobe to Floor – and he doesn’t seem to ever feel bored or lonely.

There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, Jack is incredibly intelligent. He is precocious and his vocabulary is truly amazing. He knows things and songs that it seems unlikely he could have picked up even from all his hours of TV. Second of all, it seems unlikely that his mother could have managed to so successfully keep him away from their captor ‘Old Nick’. She makes demands of Old Nick that I feel stretch the reader’s disbelief. If she really had so much power, why was she still a captive?

This section also gives the reader a chance to get used to Jack’s narrative voice. Much has been made of how well Donaghue has captured a five-year-old’s voice. I’m not sure I agree. It certainly seems to fit with an adult’s idea of what it might be like inside a five-year-old’s head and that is probably why he seems so precocious and has such a good vocabulary. Also, it is too exact. Jack says the same things, the same way every time. I’m not sure that anyone’s thoughts are quite as exact as that.

I must admit that one of the things I found irritating about Jack’s voice was the lack of the definite article. I understand completely what Donaghue was trying to do and it was very clever but it made me cringe everytime it was missing.

The second half of the book documents the escape. This is another moment that does not ring true. Jack’s world is suddenly turned upside down when his mother explains her lies and persuades him to play dead. Old Nick happily drives off with him wrapped in a carpet – not even checking if the boy is dead or not.

However, once he has escaped and his mother is rescued, the book becomes interesting again as Jack and Ma adjust to life outside. Jack learns that there are more people in the world than he could have imagined He discovers stairs. Everything is too loud and too bright. His mother also has difficulty re-adjusting. This is definitely the most interesting part of the book.

While I did enjoy this book, I would probably recommend the film more. The main reason for this is we are able to see things from different perspectives and Jack’s voice wasn’t constantly in your ear. It would have been good to hear Ma’s voice for some of the book as I am sure her story would have been just as interesting as Jack’s.

Full House Reading Challenge – Love, Lies and Lemon Cake – Sue Watson

Genre: Romantic comedy

Narrative Style: First person chronological

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Faye Dobson’s marriage has grown stale. She no longer has anything in common with her husband and she is bored with her life. She had had dreams once but now they all seem dead. When a new deli opens with a hunky Australian behind the counter, she realises something has to change.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Food in title.

Okay, so I knew this might not be for me from the start. I was struggling to find a book with food in the title. All the obvious ones like Chocolat, for example, I’ve already read. There are a lot of rom-com sounding books with food in the title so I thought I’d give one a go. It’s good to read outside of your norm once in a while anyway.

So, the narrator of Watson’s novel is Faye Dobson. She is a bored housewife whose husband is a stereotypical pig who only cares about his plumbing. Her daughter is away at university and no longer needs her. She works in a hairdresser with an assortment of stereotypes and this is not fulfilling her. So far so typical. Everything in Faye’s life is a cliché. Which would be okay if she broke out of the mould and did something exciting.

Unfortunately, the trope of Antipodean hunk rescuing middle-aged frump is just a different sort of cliché. Dan is everything you’d hope he would be. Perfect on the eye, understanding, just longing for an older woman to be his mother substitute.

As you may be able to tell, I found this book rather irritating. It isn’t particularly badly written. In fact, it was one of the more enjoyable of this genre that I have read. It just wasn’t for me. I’m not going to deny my intellectual snobbiness. The main character was a hairdresser and her husband was a plumber. I really don’t think I was the target audience.

I think the thing that I found the most irritating was the fact that this was pure escapism. Faye leaves her husband in the most easy way possible and then we barely hear from him again. She is allowed unlimited time away from work to have her Mediterranean adventure with Dan. And when history repeats itself with her daughter, everything turns out rosy in the way that it didn’t for Faye. Real life has no place here.

It made me think about why I read. I wouldn’t say that escapism is very high on my list. I like to read about other people’s lives to find out about different times and places. This told me nothing that I didn’t already know.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie

Genre: Cosy Mystery

Narrative Style: First Person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1920

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Just before her death by strychnine poisoning, Emily Inglethorp is heard arguing with someone.  It is assumed to be her husband. In fact, the case seems cut and dried at first. However, Hercule Poirot soon proves that this is not the case.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Cosy Mystery.

I have read some Agatha Christie before but it was a long time ago and the only thing I was sure of was that it wasn’t a Poirot book. I seem to remember enjoying it but I was certainly still at school, it was that long ago.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this book. There was some interest and intrigue. It was fun working out the mystery. But that was as far as it went.

The main problem was that it felt like all the mechanisms were on show. Maybe I am just too used to reading detective fiction but this one was definitely lacking in subtlety. It was just too pat. Poirot just happened to be in the area. Hastings was just a little too stupid. (And as he was presumably supposed to represent the reader, it was a little insulting.) The double bluff was a step too far with Poirot the only one clever enough to have figured it out.

As ever, I found it difficult to cope with people who are so incredibly posh. I did not feel particularly bothered about their fates. The main thing here was the mystery. The characters were almost incidental.

Finally, I suppose it was a little tame. I’m not suggesting that I need gore and horror, necessarily but I do prefer stories with a bit of meat to them. There was not a lot here to sink your teeth into.

Full House Reading Challenge – Breath – Tim Winton

Genre: Bildungsroman, Australian Fiction,

Narrative Style: first person, flashback framed by present day.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2008

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Bruce Pike is a paramedic. When he attends what appears to be a suicide by hanging, it takes him back to his thrill-seeking adolscence with his friend Loonie. They meet Sando, an older man who is keen to take their daring to new levels. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Australian Fiction.

The story starts when Bruce Pike is called to what seems to be a suicide by hanging. A teenage boy has been found hanged by his parents. It is a horrific and emotional opening. There is something not quite right about the scene and Bruce knows straightaway that it is not a suicide. Much to the chagrin of his paramedic partner, he refuses to spill the beans as to how he knows.

The incident takes Bruce back to his childhood when he hung around with Loonie, the town’s wild boy when they spent their hours surfing. Not longer after, they meet Sando, an older man who lives a hippie lifestyle and seems to have no cares in the world.

The novel goes on to explore masculinity and the need for adrenalin. There is a stark contrast between the daring and exciting Sando and Bruce’s parents who are decsribed as dull and everyday. As the friendship between the three deepens, so the waves they take on get bigger and Bruce gets more and more nervous. A rivalry develops between Loonie and Bruce, and Bruce knows he has no hope of winning. He just isn’t brave enough.

When Sando goes away, taking Loonie with him, to explore foreign waves, Bruce is bereft. He begins to visit Sando’s wife and becomes involved in her erotic thrillseeking, something that both repulses and attracts him.

Bruce’s voice is very much an Australian one. Winton captures the speech patterns of his native country successfully while also putting Australian masculinity under the microscope. I enjoyed it immensely. My only criticism is that the end of the novel seemed a little rushed as Bruce moves to talking about his adult life. Apart from that, a very good read.

 

 

 

Full House Reading Challenge: The Short Drop – Matthew Fitzsimmons (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: Third Person from various viewpoints.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2015

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ten Years ago, senator’s daughter Suzanne Lombard disappeared. She has never been found. Gibson Vaughn, childhood friend of Suzanne is still finding her disappearance difficult to deal with so when he is approached by old nemesis, George Abe, who has a new lead, he is torn between wanting to find the truth and his dislike of Abe. When he agrees, he has no idea of the tangled web into which he will be pulled.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Debut Novel. 

People really seem to like this book. There are barely any reviews on Goodreads that are less than 4 stars. I really don’t understand this as I found this book to be ordinary at best.

It started well. Gibson Vaughn was painted as a loner, a man haunted by his past and by Suzanne’s disappearance and that sounded interesting. The fact that he was being observed by a mysterious group that might be FBI added to the tension straightaway. Quickly Vaughn is pulled into an attempt at finding Suzanne’s abductor. So far so good: pacy, interesting characters, plenty of clues and insinuations.

However, for me it quickly went down hill. Various events stretched my willingness to suspend my disbelief to breaking point. It started when Jenn Charles and her ex-cop partner, following Abe’s orders, despatch some Guantanamo Bay style torture on the suspect they have captured. Then there is the psychopath Fred Tinsley, who is following the gang, waiting for the instruction to start bumping them off. And the security heavies Cold Harbour, who are controlled by Lombard’s father who is determined that nothing will spoil his presidential candidacy.

This just didn’t ring true for me. I must admit that I’m not overly familiar with the genre of political thriller but it just seemed a little too much. What had seemed fast paced and interesting at the beginning, began to feel like a rollercoaster gone off the rails.

On top of that, I saw all of the twists coming and that was annoying. The ending was unsatisfying. While Lombard resigns his candidacy, it seems like more should happen to him, that the terrible truth of what he has done should be revealed. Vaughn takes possession of Suzanne’s daughter without anyone so much as blinking and the girl herself is remarkably calm and unconcerned about what is going on.

Still, it seems I am in the minority. Most people love this book. Maybe it is just another genre that doesn’t really suit me.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Immoralist – Andre Gide

Genre: Classics, Translated Literature, Philosophical

Narrative Style: First person narrative 

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1902

Synopsis: Gide presents us with the confession of Michel, a man who seeks to live by his own desires. Having married to please his aged father, Michel soon discovers beauty in the shape of an Arab boy and is changed irrevocably. He starts to live by his own desires. He becomes restless and despite his wives ill health, travels constantly until at the end he arrives back at the place where he first discovered beauty. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: European author.

This is not an easy read. Not because Michel abandons his wife and social convention to follow his own desires. In fact, it is still possible to like Michel even though he behaves badly towards Marceline. His questioning of moral constraints and his longing for a freedom that is meaningful mean that the reader is able to understand his behaviour.

The unease comes from Michel’s fascination with the male children that he meets. He sees the beauty in them and begins to spend all of his waking hours with them, leaving his wife to her own devices to be with them. The oldest of these children is 15. It is important to note that everything is innocent but still it makes for uncomfortable reading. Michel is fascinted by them and longs to follow his desires. So begins his journey towards becoming an immoralist.

Michel’s striving for freedom makes him restless and he cannot settle to anything, He becomes fascinated by the farm workers on his estate, with criminal lowlife and allows himself to become involved with poaching his own estate. Towards the end, he needs to keep moving, despite the fact that his wife is dying. This restlessness relates to his homosexuality which, in the end, he acknowledges with the last line of the novel when he says that he prefers the brother of the girl who has been looking after him. Earlier, he has the opportunity to take his freedom, through his friendship with Menalque but instead stays with his wife, who is representative of all  that society expects from Michel.

Whilst feeling uncomfortable with the object of Michel’s desire, it is still possible to empathise with his struggle. In fact, it is this aspect that is so difficult. Michel is not evil. He is conflicted and selfish and longs to be free of society’s constraints but in the end, he is recognisably human.